Learn how to really take flight in Bakasana and beyond with this core-activating sequence.
Arm balances are only partially about the arms. Without a strong core, you may find yourself relying on your upper body to muscle through them. But the key to really taking flight in arm balances like Bakasana is distributing your attention equally between the core by activating the pelvic floor and lower abdominals and the upper body by finding stability and strength in the shoulder girdle. Training the mind to focus on the core in these poses stabilizes the asana but also gives you practice finding your peaceful center in challenging situations. That's work that applies off the mat, too.
In this step-by-step method, you will begin by summoning the core strength you need to lift the body and then integrate the work of the shoulders to create a solid foundation for your body weight. Never rush the journey toward strength. Instead take the time to build it up slowly and enjoy the process.
Start on your hands and knees with hands shoulder-width apart. Align knees under the inner edges of hip joints. Exhale as you round the back while protracting the shoulders, pulling the lower ribs in and tucking the tailbone. Engage your core to support the spine. Feel as though your body lifts itself from below. Next, take more weight into your arms and shoulders. Slowly start to move your shoulders forward, allowing the wrist creases to deepen. But avoid taking your shoulders past the tips of your fingers. As you lean forward, maintain the engagement of your core and position of your spine. Stay for 5 breaths. Repeat 3 times. If this is challenging for you, stop here and keep practicing.
If you feel up for a challenge, then build up to a full Plank. Keeping shoulders stacked over palms, inhale as you curl the toes under and straight the legs to come up to full Plank. Keep core engaged while pressing back into the balls of the feet. Gaze forward of your fingers.
Next take your Plank forward and up into high Plank, pitching the shoulders forward and pulling in with the core. Round the back and come all the way up to your tippy toes. Stay for 5 breaths. Repeat 3 times.
Start on hands and knees with hands shoulder-width apart. Align knees under the inner edges of hip joints. Inhale as you engage the core muscles to lift the right leg. Round your spine and lift the knee toward your forehead (not the forehead to the knee). Bring the knee past the plane of the wrist, sliding it between the arms. Stay for 5 breaths, then repeat on the left side. Repeat 3 times. If this is challenging for you, stay here and keep practicing.
If you’re ready for a challenge, inhale to come to Plank. Drawing the head of the right femur in its socket, activate the lower abdominals, and round the back to bring the knee toward the forehead. Stay for 5 breaths, then exhale and return to Plank. Inhale and repeat on the left side. Repeat both sides 3 times.
Starting off in a seated position, inhale as you enter Navasana. Draw the thighs in toward the core to lift the legs. Draw the lower ribs in, empty out the pelvic bowl, and engage the pelvic floor. Align the hands with the shoulders and gaze toward the toes. Stay for 5 breaths.
Exhale as you lower down to Ardha Navasana. Only lower as far as you can comfortably hold the lower back to the floor. Glue the lower ribs in and engage the abdominals. Tuck the chin to protect the neck. Stay for 5 breaths.
This pose will teach you how to activate your core to hold your body in the shape of Bakasana. When you get to the challenge pose, remember this active-core sensation.
From Half Boat, inhale and roll the spine up, bending the knees and hovering for a moment. Then tuck the knees either behind the elbows or as close to the armpits as possible to come into Floating Bakasana. Keep the shoulders wide and the arms aligned with the shoulders. Avoid collapsing the collarbone to lift the knees higher. Stay for 5 breaths. Inhale and return to Navasana. Repeat 3 times.
Start in a squat and exhale as you tuck the knee behind the shoulders. Reach your hands to the ground by bending the elbows and moving your weight forward. Keeping your hips low, rest the shins on the shelf of the upper arm. Wrap the elbows in and keep them stacked over the palms even as you bend forward. Inhale as you stabilize the shoulders, pull in the lower abs, engage the pelvic floor and move even more forward to enter Kakasanasa (Crow Pose). Keep the elbows bent and hold for 5 breaths. If this is challenging for you, stay here and repeat this pose 3 times, rather than moving onto Bakasana. Then take rest.
The major difference beween these two poses is that Kakasana is with bent elbows and a flatter spine, allowing the body to rest a little more on the arms. By contrast Bakasana uses the straight arms to test the core's ability to lift the body with it’s own strength.
Start in a squat with feet together and exhale perch on the balls of your feet, straightening your arms and rounding your back. Place knees directly behind the armpits. Move your shoulders forward while using your core muscles to lift your hips back and up. Draw your ribs in and inhale to come up to Bakasana. Focus on engaging the lower abs to lift the hips as the shoulders move forward to create a counterbalance. Stay for 5 breaths. Repeat 3 times.
Kino MacGregor is a self-professed Handstand lover (just check out her Instagrams). She’s also a Pattabhi Jois-certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher who travels worldwide, author of three books, featured in six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, YogaVibes and a Cody App video series, and co-founder of Miami Life Center, where she and her husband Tim Feldmann are based. Catch up with her on: